Loving your body is one of those things you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cherish it. You are supposed to appreciate it. You are supposed to enjoy looking at it in the mirror. We are all supposed to do these things. Hell, I’ve written a whole book on them.
Right? I’ve worked on body love so much I even know how to help you do it.
From all of that experience, I know that there are good ways to do it, and there are bad.
I (obviously!) do it all the good ways. I love my body because of what it does, and because of gratitude for what it provides to me — like the abilities to breathe, and to laugh, and to be happy. I love my body because it is my home. I love my body because it does its best to make me healthy. I love my body because the number of things it does right far outweigh the number of things it does wrong. I do not love my body based on shallow, transient characteristics like the circumference of my abdomen or the semi-linearity of my almost-white teeth. (I do, admittedly, really enjoy having orange hair.)
I love my body in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.
(there’s got to be a “yet,” right?)
Sometimes I do not love my body.
Sometimes, in fact, I hate it.
Sometimes I fear it.
Sometimes I resent its limitations so fiercely I dig my nails into my mattress and sob until I run out of breath.
Here is why:
My body works, but not the way it is supposed to.
My body sleeps, but never for more than four hours at a time and sometimes not at all.
My kidneys process potassium, but at a much lower rate than other peoples’ do.
My heart beats, but faster and harder than a healthy heart beats.
My skin protects me from the outer world. It looks pretty good these days. But one sweaty workout, one bite of vegetables fried in butter, one handful of nuts, one small period of fasting, one ten-minute exposure to UV rays, and I will most certainly have acne the following morning.
My eyes work, but are photophobic, which means that I get migraines from any lights brighter than a desk lamp. I always wear sunglasses outside, and sometimes I even have to wear them inside. This is not a whole lot of fun in ballet class.
My metabolism burns, but slowly. Just one “off” day and my pants are noticeably tighter. If not careful, I’ll put on five pounds in a week.
My ovaries now work better, thanks to serious efforts and healing on my part, but I also experience weight gain and quite depressing PMS like clockwork every 27 days.
My muscles contract, but those in my back more than other people’s, which means I get headaches if I have poor posture or sit down for too long.
My eardrums are great at detecting quiet sounds. Their sensitivity can be helpful. It can also be opporessive, since loud sounds and pressure from the wind give me headaches. I always have a pair of ear plugs on me in case I need them.
My body works, but is limiting.
My body works, but I cannot necessarily fix it.
My body, in fact, often stops me from being able to visit friends and relatives. It prevents me from enjoying meals that my friends make. It forces me to leave all rooms with fluorescent lights. It doesn’t let me sleep. It makes my heart beat too fast. It gives me anxiety. It makes me chronically exhausted. It erodes my faith in my ability to ever be able to have a stable health and happiness.
In these moments, do I love my body?
Well, deep down, yes. I know that it is my only home. It is my shelter, and my partner. It does many good things. I do know this.
But sometimes its just f*cking impossible to feel it.
It is my firm and loving opinion that it is unrealistic to demand of ourselves that we always feel positively about our bodies. My solution is to stop doing that.
I don’t put any pressure on. I do my best. Life is hard. Health is hard. I no longer need to be perfect, in this as much as in other things. I simply cannot do it. As much as I do genuinely love and appreciate my body, I am a human being who struggles. I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I am so unhappy with my body it physically aches.
And to be honest, since I have accepted the pain and frustrations and patience required for living in my body…
it has all gotten easier. Permitting my negativite feelings space has allowed me to heal. I’ve got at least three degrees of acceptance here working in my favor. I enjoy thinking of myself as intelligent, so let’s call it Meta-Acceptance. It’s 1) okay that my body is so delicate, 2) also okay that I don’t like that my body is so delicate, amd 3) also also okay that I don’t like that I don’t like that my body is so delicate.
These days when I’m scared or pissed off about my body, I let myself be angry. My mom will call me and I’ll say – hang on, I’ve got a big cry to let out, I’ll call you right back. And I do it, and I’m unhappy, but I’m fine, it’s actually all fine. I go back to the tasks and rhythm of my Monday. The more I have accepted these moments and feelings, the easier they flow through me and out of my life.
It’s kind of nice.
…Even though (!) the point of this post has NOT been to teach you a lesson on how to heal.
Sure – yes – acceptance has been powerful. Woooo. Go acceptance!
What I really want to do here more than anything is to “come out” – so to speak. It is to be a blogger who cares about body love, who has literally written the book (one of them) on it – and to still be someone who isn’t always overbrimming with joy and love.
More and more acceptance all the time, sure. Stuff is what it is, and that’s that. But life as a human animal is hard and imperfect, and here I am saying, do your best to be loyal to and embrace your body, but – well. Whatever. If you don’t always feel it, more power to you. You need more than just the easy stuff to make life worth living anyway.
It’s all okay. Good day, bad day, how much you are capable of accepting limitations. Whatever.
Sometimes I don’t feel love for my body.
No big deal.
Off and on for the last several weeks, I’ve been working on prelimary outlines for my tentative forthcoming book, Love is the New Skinny – which I have been calling a “theory of human beauty.” LITNS has been a whole hell of a lot more challenging than I imagined. I have no idea what I want to say or how I want to say it. I am not sure if I am going to go through with it. I can’t — literally, I cannot — publish this book unless I figure out a good way to say good things.
So. I am at square negative six hundred.
The upside of all of this seemingly pointless toil is that I have discovered a few things about beauty that are at least minimally valuable.
So anyway. I’ve got one of those gems of wisdom for you today.
It goes like this:
It is impossible – literally, i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e – to take in and judge the appearance of a human being without considering her personality.
That’s right. Impossible. Here’s why:
Every single aspect of what you look like is impacted by the story of your life and the choices you make.
Let’s do this via thought experiment.
Say, you see, for example, this photo of me. What do you see?
First, sure, I do see a “little” body. An XS shirt. Size zero pants (when they’re Taiwanese pants, a size zero says something powerfully little). A body of angles and muscles. This body says things. It says “Stefani meets social expectations of slenderness.” It also screams athleticism, litheness, and discipline. Our cultured brains care about body type very much, so these judgments register fast and easy for all of us.
However. It is impossible not to see so much more.
I see a heavy necklace that for this woman in the photo means something deep and important about an old friend, and about which I can infer there is probably a story. I see a lace, translucent shirt — the first of many signals to show how little this woman gives a damn about propriety. I see a collar hanging off of one shoulder – something that signals a loose sense of carelessness and freedom, and maybe even hints at sexual openness.
I see a smile that is simultaneously contemplative, curious, and michevious.
I see a slouch that is graceful and comfortable and confident. Dont’ forget, too, that this is just a picture, and in real life the dimensions of time and space come into play, as well as the rest of your senses.
In real life, you’d see a fair bit of grace and easy, bouncy movement. You’d see erratic hand gestures. You’d see an irritable scowl. You’d hear an odd, Marge Simpson-esque laugh (inherited that one from good old mom). You’d smell something fairly clean but also possibly post-dance and unshowered.
You could apprehend all of these things in an instant, and even while a loud part of your brain would focus on the fact that the body is a particular shape, and the breasts just so, and hips just so, because that’s what society has told you to do, a body without being embodied by something would never be attractive to you. The part of your brain that apprehends personality is strong. It is important. It will never be shut off.
Because you can never confront a human being without it also being a being. Without it having personality. Without it saying something about its inner self. I-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e.
And you can never look at something without understanding in an instant what all of its symbols mean to you.
Small = disciplined. Hunched shoulders = scared. Bright colored clothing = bold. Dark suit = professional. Pink lipstick = playful. Of course none of these “symbols” are hard and fast rules, but the point is that we all have them to varying degrees in our brains, and share them to one degree or another as human beings in a human society. The reason the appearance of things appeal to us is largely that they indicate deeper meaning.
Let’s try something a bit more challenging. Is it actually impossible to avoid deeper meaning when you look at a body?
What about a highly sexualized, objectifying advertisement?
In this advertisement, this woman is literally being turned into an object. Her body is become a beer bottle. If this doesn’t equate women with physicality, I don’t know what does.
If this doesn’t remove a woman’s agency and personhood from the equation, then nothing does. This is about as bad as it gets. And let me be clear about it: objectification is rampant and horrible, and we must put a stop to it.
Nevertheless. When you look at this ad, what else do you see?
You see wildness. Sexual inhibitions. A rough and ready woman.
These are the themes behind the image the advertisers want you to see.
Yet they couldn’t stop you from seeing themes even if they wanted to.
The closest you could come to truly objectifying a woman is to break her up into parts and make those parts a statue Even these statues have character and meaning. What if you saw a statue of a leg? Would it be muscled? Jiggly? Have calluses? Scars? All these aspects of the leg bring character inevitably to mind.
If not in parts — if a whole silhouette — even a woman’s stance says something about who she is.
The way she stands, sits, holds her head, walks. These are the most basic things.
Then your history and your choices come into play. How you dress. The shoes you’re wearing. The way you speak.
All of which is to say…
(right, why am I bothering with saying these perhaps obvious things?)
that what makes a person beautiful, attractive, sexy, whatever-you-want-to-call it, in any singular person’s eyes, will NEVER be (only) the shape of their body.
Body is a part of it. Society has made it so.
But you are ineluctably you.
We might think society has this giant hold on us, making us care first and foremost about a body’s shape.
But the truth of the matter is that body shape is only one small piece of the puzzle. The fact that you cannot absolutely objectify a human being means that it is not just idealistic handwaving all of us bloggers are doing when we tell you that your body shape is secondary to your personality at best. It’s fact.
You might see a size 2 top and size 6 bottom when you look at me. You might see my cup size. You might see how well formed or absent my musculature is. But I am damn certain that far more important for your judgment of me — even if from a great distance, and we never speak — has to do with the other things. The standing. Walking. Moving. Dressing. Expressing.
So what do you see when you look at me?
I think you see a lot of things.
I see a lot of things when I look at you, too.
So far as the best estimates go, upwards of 15 percent of American women develop hypothyroidism during their adult lives.
So far as my best guess can contribute to those numbers, I think perhaps a whole hell of a lot (specific, eh?) of additional women suffer from ‘sub-clinical’ hypothyroidism. Sub-clinical means that your blood test results do not meet the official requirements for a thyroid disorder as determined by the medical community, but you still experience symptoms as a result of thyroid deficiency.
So hypothyroidism is rampant. Another statistic even more striking than those I’ve already discussed is the number of women who SHOULD suspect they’ve got a thyroid problem and/or get treatment for it but do not. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists say the number of women undiagnosed is equal to the number diagnosed. So if 8 million American women know they have hypothyroidism, then 8 million of us also have it, but do not know.
Thyroid function is complex. Your thyroid gland works only after receiving a “green light” signal for production by the pituitary gland, which comes in the form of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). It then makes T4 in high amounts, and then T4 is converted to T3 by the liver. T3 is the final form of thyroid hormone and is responsible for delivering energy to all of the cells in your body.
The consequences of developing a problem somewhere in this production process can be dire. They include extreme fatigue, weight gain, mental disorders, and infertility…for just a few examples.
Rectifying hypothyroidism can be genuinely lifesaving.
So it’s important to know if you’ve got it! Experiencing one of the following symptoms or engaging in one of the practices may not be enough cause for you to leap into concern, butseveral in conjunction may indicate it’s time for you to get a thyroid check-up.
Here are 19 tests for hypothyroidism:
1) You’re tired.
Unfortunately, fatigue is one of the most common complaints for just about every health condition out there. It is particularly strongly associated with thyroid disorders, however. The thyroid system’s entire job is to provide energy to your cells. If you’re extremely tired even though you are well-rested, your thyroid may be to blame.
Because fatigue is so common, it may be best to see if you meet any of the other criteria on this list before proceeding.
2) You suffer menstrual disorders or hormone imbalances such as PMS or PCOS.
The thyroid gland is a part of a delicate team of glands in your body called the HPA (and T, and O) axis. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, ovarian tissue, and adrenal glands all work in tandem to produce hormones that run your body. Reproductive hormone irregularities are a big red flag for disruption anywhere in the HPATO axis.
If your estrogen levels are high, then there’s a decent chance your thyroid levels are low. How do you know if estrogen is high? Best of all, get your blood tested. If you cannot do that, you can perhaps infer your estrogen status from your menstrual symptoms. If you suffer from cramps and PMS, there’s a decent change your estrogen levels are high. Estrogen is the primary cause of PMS, cramps, heavy bleeding, and lengthy periods.
Estrogen and thyroid hormone are antagonists to each other in the bloodstream. When one goes up, the other often goes down.
Additionally, if you have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, you may also wish to consider hypothyroidism as a cause, as low thyroid levels are one of the easiest ways to cause the reproductive system to slow down.
3) You are constipated
The purpose of thyroid hormone is to deliver energy to cells. If you have insufficient thyroid function, then bodily functions slow down.
Digestion is one of them.
Combined with other symptoms, constipation is a red flag for thyroid disruption.
Another way your gut may be involved in your thyroid health is via an autoimmune disease.
90 percent of hypothyroid cases are actually caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease originates in an unhealthy gut. Unhealthy guts often have perforations in their lining, which allows toxic particles to pass into the bloodstream. The immune system mounts an attack against these particples. This is generally a good thing, except that your immune system can be so panicked that it accidentally starts attacking your own human cells – like thyroid cells – too.
If your digestion is significantly impaired in any fashion, this may be directly related to your hypothyroid problems. Get tested for this by asking a doctor for a test for Hashimoto’s antibodies. These are the molecules in your blood that mount the immune attack on your thyroid gland. If you have elevated amounts of these antibodies, then your hypothyroid problems are likely from your unhealthy gut.
4) You are cold.
Ever wonder why women are so much colder than men? Thryoid hormone is a furnace, keeping cells firing at the right energetic rate to stay warm. If you are constantly cold, especially relative to the people around you, this may indicate a thyroid issue.
5) You have low blood pressure and/or poor circulation
Because having low thyroid levels slows down most body functions, it makes sense that the blood would slow down a bit, too. Slowed blood movement means low blood pressure, which itself can cause dizziness and fatigue.
Low blood pressure ad poor circulation can also cause numbness or coldness in the extremities. This happens via the simple mechanism of decreased blood flow to the extremities as well as decreased energetic rate.
This is another one of those “womanly” things – have you ever snuggled with a person who was shocked by how terribly cold your feet are? Your circulation and/or thyroid health may be to blame.
6) Your skin, hair, and nails are dry and brittle
The thyroid gland helps skin and hair cells stay connected, lubricated, and being produced at a steady, happy pace. When thyroid levels are low, the quality of your “external” cells decreases.
7) Your voice is hoarse
This is one of the markers of hypothyroidism I personally do my best to forget about, since I often have a hoarse voice – most particularly when I am stressed out or not sleeping well.
The reason your voice becomes hoarse on hypothyroidism is that the thyroid gland is located very close to your vocal chords. The thyroid gland swells and produces excessive “nodules” when under duress, which press on your vocal chords.
8) Your neck is swollen
The medical term for this is “goiter” and is directly related to having a hoarse voice. When unhealthy, the thyroid gland swells. This can be small and only detectable via touch (your doctor is trained to do this), or in massive proportions that can make it quite obvious.
9) You experience mental issues such as brain fog or poor memory retention
Here we have more “slow-down.”
If your thyroid levels are low, your brain gets sluggish. It’s hard to remember things and to focus. More thyroid hormone could make you sharper, more aware, and more appreciative of your surroundings.
10) You experience mood issues, particularly depression
Depression and hypothyroidism are linked via the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is largely responsible for feelings of peace, calm, contentedness, and being happy enough to get out of bed in the morning. Thyroid hormone regulates serotonin production. Less thyroid means less serotonin. It also means less of other good stuff, like dopamine, which is another neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy to be alive.
Depression and thyroid can also be linked via gut permeability, like we discussed earlier. How? If your underlying problem is poor gut health, then serotonin will be impacted, too — as 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is located in the gut (!).
11) You experience relentless weight gain or extreme difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
Given that lots of body processes slow down when you are hypothyroid, it should come as no surprise that fat burning is one of them.
In fact, it is one of the primary systems affected.
Most studies indicate that thyroid hormone levels go up when one becomes overweight. This is because the body is attempting to burn off that fat as quickly as possible. So you may be overweight and have “healthy” thyroid levels.
But you may also be under-, normal-, or over-weight and have hypothyroidism making your weight maintenance difficult. For anyone of any size, decreased thyroid activity directly decreases caloric expenditure.
12) You have a low sex drive
Low libido is another indicator that your hormones simply are not up to snuff. Sex drive is always one of the first things to go when the reproductive system is stressed. Any dysfunction in the HPA axis likely means there’s dysfunction elsewhere, such as in the thyroid gland.
13) You are stressed
If you are psychologically under any kind of duress, your thyroid hormone levels will most likely drop. Your hypothalamus is highly attuned to stress and happiness levels.
If you are physically under any kind of duress, such as by exercising excessively or undereating, your hypothalamus will also know this, and it will detect this as a sign that it needs to shut it all down.
Both psychological and physical stress are major thyroid buzzkills. Know this well, and do your absolute best to reduce stress as much as possible.
14) You eat a very low carbohydrate diet
Very low carbohydrate diets – such as those that only have vegetables as a source of carbohydrate without starchier varieties like potatoes or fruit or rice in the diet – can hinder the conversion from T3 to T4.
Your liver needs carbohydrates in order to produce T3 adequately. So beef up your carb intake if on a VLC diet — up to at very minimum 80 grams a day (about three servings of fruit or starch), and perhaps you may see your thyroid levels tick back up.
15) You do not eat seafood or consume iodized salt
Iodine is necessary for thyroid function.
Goiter was sweeping the nation in the early 20th century. Iodine was added to table salt in 1924, and this helped a lot of Americans. The vast majority of hypothyroid cases worldwide are in fact due to iodine deficiency. This isn’t the case in the states precisely because of the iodized salt, yet iodine deficiency remains a potential threat. Without iodized salt iodine is quite rare in the diet, except for in fish or seaweed.
If you suffer hypothyroid symptoms and also do not consume iodized salt, consider adding some back in to your diet, as this could be hindering your thyroid hormone production. Consuming fish can help, and especially seaweed, if you choose not to go with the iodized salt.
Note: While a diet low in iodine can cause hypothyroidism, supplementing with iodine in the case of a thyroid problem is not always the best idea. Iodine supplementation can aggravate autoimmune disorders associated with the thyroid gland. So nourish your thyroid gland as best you can, and be sure you do not have an autoimmune condition before considering significant iodine consumption. Iodine in natural foods and some salt should be fine for most.
16) You eat a lot of greens
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli all contain high levels of a group of molecules called “goitrogens.” Goitrogens are known to cause goiter, largely because they interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland. This makes it impossible for your body to synthesize sufficient levels of thyroid hormone.
In reasonable doses for a healthy human being, goitrogens are not a problem. Yet for someone predisposed to thyroid issues or who eats a high quantity of greens (think: in excess of a few servings every day), these can actually be a problem. This is especially true if you eat them raw. Cooking greens neutralizes the goitrogens, to an extent. But consuming them raw, or fermented (think: kimchi or sauerkraut), then you are in for a hefty dose of goitrogens.
17) You take a lithium-based mood stabilizer
Lithium directly inhibits thyroid hormone production.
Lithium can be salvific for people who suffer from bi-polar and other mood disorders. In this case, it may be worth the trade-off.
The trade-off is not all that clear-cut anyway. The thyroid gland can be supported by iodine supplementation or thyroid hormone dosing if you are also taking lithium. So there’s no saying you must come off of lithium in order to eliminate thyroid symptoms. This is just one known, very real cause of hypothyroidism.
18) The outer third of your eyebrows is unusually thin
This one symptom may seem a bit off the wall. Really? Thin eyebrows?
In fact, I have had vanishingly thin outer eyebrows my entire life. In the last year or so they have grown thicker… and I am not alone in this.
This study found that 24% of hypothyroid patients have thin eyebrows. Hypothyroid patients tend to lose hair generally, as the body just becomes less good at producing it. Eyebrow hair is particularly at risk, so skinny eyebrows are a good if harmless red flag for investigating your thyroid health.
19) You do not have these blood test results
A blood test is one of the best ways to know if you have a thyroid issue. Of course, blood tests aren’t bulletproof, but then again, nothing is.
Here is a list of blood test results where one of my favorite experts Dr Amy Myers and I both believe the healthy ranges are. Ideally, you want:
- TSH 1-2 UIU/ML or lower (If TSH is too high this means the body is trying to get the thyroid gland to make T4 and T3 but it isn’t happening)
- T4 >1.1 NG/DL (High T4 can also signal hypothyroidism if T3 is low)
- T3 > 3.2 PG/ML
- Reverse T3 (something you produce under stress) less than a 10:1 ratio Reverse T3:Free T3
- TPO (these are antibodies) – <9 IU/ML or negative
- TgAb (also antibodies) – < 4 IU/ML or negative
… Which concludes our list! To read more about thyroid disease, stay tuned for more in this series, and be sure to check out Chris Kresser’s articles, which are comprehensive and very, very smart.Read More
Today’s blog post is very special. Its got three secret podcasts.
Which is another way to say:
it’s got three podcasts I recorded at some point in the last few months and forgot to tell you about.
I swear: blogging is harder than it looks.
Okay, anyway: included in this suite are some unique conversations (what is epistemology? why does Stefani obsess over dancing?), some great insights on the relationship between sexuality and sexiness (my answer: well, it’s complicated, go listen), and the first time I talk on air about my next book wooooo.
Here they are, in no particular order:
The Primal Shift
Much like my experiences out in other activities (wink), my first group podcast was an absolute blast.
This isn’t to say it’s the first multi-person chat I’ve done-there have been plenty of those-but this was the first time I’ve been the singular interviewee to three interviewers. That’s 300 percent the normal number of interviewers.
Which, again, I can say from some of my favorite life experiences, is not a degree of attention to let go overlooked.
The Primal Shift is awesome. It’s a group of three Aussie paleo advocates with a passionate, curious, laid-back, delightful approach to wellness. We did a video cast and I seem to remember dancing at one point.
In which I talked about tips for horrible dancers. How to have a good time, still be attractive, and love dancing out in public, no matter your skill.
And then more dancing.
Other things we discuss:
-Why do women cut each other down?
-When did culture start revering thinness?
-How paleo advocates are people, too.
-The difference between sexy and confidence (I actually don’t remember what I said about this… I’m going to have to go back and listen and see if I still agree.)
-Whether Cross-fit is good for women.
-And boatloads more. Lots of Aussie pop references flying over my head.
Check out the podcast here.
Born Primal with Kendall Kendrick
I love Kendall. She’s all about positive sexuality. She dares to think outside of boxes in terms of how people should relate to each other and live happily. She believes in the power of meditation for short- and long-term health.
We did this interview way back in April, before even Paleo fx.
What did we talk about?
Well, one thing we did was particularly awesome, which was: make a list of all the reasons Stefani is a Big. Deal. Like Intermittent fasting. Disordered Eating. Men and Women’s health differences. You know.
hahahaha. Big Deal.
We all get to be comedians from time to time.
We also discuss: what is the natural female body like? What do female bodies look like in extant hunter-gatherer and traditional cultures?
Why are Americans obsessed with thinness?
And my own struggles to embrace weight gain and be the jiggly, healthy woman I was born to be.
Check out me and Kendall @ here.
Last month I had the most delightful joy (no pun intended) to talk with Bridgit Danner of the Joyful Mommas blog. They really love nutrition and fertility so we did a lot of talking about PCOS, fertility blockers, fertility enhancers, and how to best nourish a female body.
We also discuss my favorite hacks for losing abdominal fat, overcoming acne, and decreasing stress. I talk about how important it is to have a sense of purpose and to love what you are doing with your life – otherwise, what will your healthy body be able to join with in your quest for a kickass life?
Check us out @ here.
Hooray! Happy Wednesday.Read More
Sooooo. Here’s a confession for you:
I used to be obsessed with being healthy.
Obsessed is an understatement. But there is no better, no stronger, word.
All vitamins needed to be accounted for in perfect measure. I calculated the perfect macronutrient ratio. I ate at the exact perfect times. I fasted because I thought it would turn me into a superhuman. Every second of my spare time was devoted to reading paleo blogs. (Yes, I’m looking at you, audience. )
I’m not sure how much this had to do with my real need for healing. Of course, deep down in my subconscious, I know that my soul trembled. It ached for faith and belief and health. The blissful relief and unbinding I felt when I finally started menstruating again was proof of that.
Yet there was a whole lot more going on other than my quest to overcome health challenges. Even when I was “healthy” I kept making efforts to be “healthier.” I kept reading about health. Better better better better better I wanted to be.
But why? To what end?
What did I used to think health gave me? What do so many of us still pursue?
So far as I can tell, we human beings pursue perfect health primarily for two reasons:
1. Fear of rejection.
I want to be loved.
So as I moved haltingly into adult life, an equation in my head constructed itself via neat little pieces, and went like this:
Good food > Sexy body (health status irrelevant) > Romantic attention > love.
So went my life that swam in self-punishing vanity.
I often I thought or said I wanted to be healthy. In fact what I really meant deep down was that I wanted to be beautiful. I chased the perfect hourglass, perfect skin, perfect hair, nails, and teeth, or what-have-you. I wanted to glow. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be affirmed. I wanted to no longer feel and be so desperately, heart-breakingly, shatteringly alone.
I said “healthy” when I described my aims to others. Who was I kidding? I know (and then did know, too) that even while I professed to pursuing good health I barely gave a passing nod to my fertility or my osteopenia or my PCOS or my hypothalamic amenorrhea, my thyroid function or my anemia. I cared about my skin. I cared about being 15% body fat. Healthy was my mask. Attractive was my goal.
That was a fool’s errand. There was zero chance obsession was going to make me any more beautiful, make me any more worthy, or make anybody love me. Beauty comes from a very different place, and it looks a lot more like inner peace than it does like frenetic lunges before running out the door to work at 5am.
2. Fear of death.
I am a rabid insomniac. If you have sleeping problems or know people who do, there is quite a decent chance that mine are worse. I am not trying to “out-symptom” or “out-sympathy” you. This is a basic fact. I have been having panic attacks while going to sleep since I was 5 years old. I have regularly only gotten 4-6 hours of sleep many nights since starting college. In the last few years, after having taken a kidney and heart- affecting drug, I now sleep no more than four hours at any given time and still at least once a week go a whole night without being able to sleep at all.
So. sleep issues.
I used to have a lot of anxiety about my insomnia. This of course did not make it any easier to fall asleep.
I worked on this with my therapist for months. I work on it still today. I have made some progress. But not much. Here’s why:
Ultimately, I as convinced that my insomnia is going to make me die sooner. My poor sleeping skills meant that I am less healthy…. and, therefore, that my telomeres are going to shorten, my inflammation and hormone imbalance will go wild, and my death will be early and punishing and swift.
Maybe, maybe, maybe this is true. Things that make my less healthy in the short term may possibly decrease my lifespan in the longterm.
Poor sleep, for one. A dessert here or there. A glass of beer. A stressful project. A cigar or a bong hit. A slice of bread, god forbid.
But life is so much more complicated than that.
Health is so much more complicated than that.
I am running – and so, so many of my health-focused peers run, too – towards greater and greater health because I am so overwhelmingly terrified of the abyss on the other side.
If I can eat perfectly, perhaps I won’t die.
This is a joke.
Even if you eat a “perfect” diet, you are still going to die.
Health is an obsession that helps me feel distant from death. It is protection. A buffer. A justification. A sense of safety. A subconscious bid for immortality.
But here’s another thing:
there’s no such thing as a perfect diet.
there’s no such thing as perfect health.
there’s no such thing as perfect looks.
there’s no such thing as immortality.
nor is there any kind of assurance that you will be perfectly safe at any point in time.
Nothing is certain. Nothing is perfect.
My solution? To let go.
When I was seriously unhealthy, with PCOS and an electrolyte imbalance that messed up my heart and migraines and acne and so much more, I had three options.
One was to obsess over my poor health and to search rabidly for a cure.
Another was to let go and say “screw it, I don’t care.”
The third was the obviously best path. It was to accept the frailty of my human body. It was to reconcile myself with my imperfection and my proximity to death. It was to work on my health problems gently and slowly.
If I think deep and hard about what I want from my physical body, this is it:
I want to be healthy enough in order to live well.
I want to eat well enough to have a body that works. I want to be able to go about doing things that make me happy and the world a better place. I want my body to be good enough that I do not worry about it. I need to be healthy so that I can inherently trust that my body will work again when I wake up tomorrow morning.
This means eating well. It does not mean obsessing over how well I eat.
This means listening to my body. It does not mean nitpicking sensations and signals.
This means accepting and embracing less-than perfect food choices. It does not mean forbidding myself pleasure.
Today, I still have a lot wrong with me. I want these things to get better. But I am not obsessed with them being perfect. Not now, not later. I can’t be. There is no perfect – there is only good, and there is only my happiness and peace with existence waiting for me on the other side.
I do not want to be healthy for the sake of healthy. I want to be healthy so that I can do things. So that I can be happy. Purposeful. Adventurous. Loving. That’s what life’s really about, right?
Stay tuned to your body. Listen. Eat well. But don’t obsess. Don’t let fear rule you. Take it from a woman who has spent decades of nights in hell with fear.
Be good, be grateful, be warm, be kind, be happy. Be a mom, a dad, a professional, a dancer, an athlete, a grandparent… we are all much more than our diets.
in conclusion, IMHO,
health is not the end – it is the means to the end.
Whatever your end may be.
Much love to Kaila Prins for being a conversation partner in this.Read More